Monday, March 18, 2013

In San Francisco: White Out — Rooms with a Point of View

On the crest of historic Nob Hill in San Francisco, top hairstylist Alex Chases has created the chic, pristine haven of his dreams.

Like his all-white downtown salon, it offers a refuge from the clamor and drama of the city, and a frame for reverie.

It’s a lesson in design restraint, and the power of a paled-down palette.

There’s a secret in his luminous, ethereal custom-designed paint. Discover his source, below.

White walls mean mystery and poetry. I’m very inspired. I hope you will be, too. 

With solid bookings for the year ahead at his two beauty salons, San Francisco hairstylist Alex Chases exercises politesse and intense focus on his devoted clients. (Yes, he has styled my hair for years, but don’t blame him when my hair is flying in all directions).

Alex devotes his day to the salons.

He also applies calm patience and goes into a kind of meditation for the hours he spends on scenic Highway 280 between his airy twelve-year-old San Francisco salon and his sun-struck Silicon Valley salon site at the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, whhere he opened almost four years ago.

At his two Alex Chases Salons—Menlo Park and Union Square he sculpts and colors, chats, trims, and loves to laugh with his clients, many of whom, like Denise Hale, have known him for more than twenty years.

At the end of the day, Chases retreats to the solace of the all-white ninth-floor apartment he designed overlooking the bay and downtown San Francisco. Rigorously edited, the two-bedroom residence in a clean-lined modernist building has been cleared of extraneous flourishes and exhibits not even a hint of color. White rules. 

White is right: In Alex Chases’ Nob Hill living room, Casamance brushed cotton/linen in off-white graces the sculptural custom-crafted chairs and chaise longue. Curtains are ivory silk taffeta.

“For me, less is more, and it’s wonderful in the evening to have this tranquil retreat waiting,” said Chases. “There are no distraction, no clutter, and no sounds except the bells of Grace Cathedral chiming the hour. I can dream, read, study and clear my head. It’s also the perfect apartment when I arrive home from a trip to St. Barth, to Vienna, to Paris or La Jolla. I am so grateful. ”

Over the last decade, Chases has systematically pared down and edited the interiors. His previous design passion was for coral Fortuny fabrics and antique Burmese cinnabar lacquer objects. Now, color has been banished in favor of sculptural white chairs, a white lacquered Chinoiserie coffee table, and lavish palest ivory silk taffeta curtains. 

Classically Framed: A collection of traditional handcrafted silver pagodas collected in Myanmar, glimmer on Alex Chases’ dining table, with a view of the Grace Cathedral spire. 

For a dinner party, he favors Hermes tableware, including his favorite ‘Toucan’ pattern. In his sculptural rooms, which give full attention to sparkling cityscapes, every detail is in high relief. His collection of rare design books are corralled in a cabinet in the foyer. Flowers are white, naturally. 

Plates: ‘Toucan’ by Hermes. Glasses from Sue Fisher King, San Francisco. Tiffany ‘Audubon’ silverware.

The collection of pure silver pagodas (handcrafted in the centuries-old lost wax method) are from Kaung Hmudaw Paya Zay, a traditional workshop in Sagaing, the capital of the Sagaing region in Burma (Myanmar). It's located on the Irrawaddy river near Bagan,north of Yangon (formerly Rangoon). 

Chases’ roster of clients (and dinner party guests) includes art philanthropist Frances Bowes, San Francisco Chief of Protocol Charlotte Shultz, animal healthcare activist Vanessa Getty, Silicon Valley tech and financial titans and philanthropy (male and female), social empress, Denise Hale, along with visiting royalty (Princess Michael of Kent, the late, great Princess Margaret) and heads of state (Margaret Thatcher). 

“I first met Alex when he was nineteen, and an apprentice at I. Magnin, and we’ve been friends every since,” said Hale.” He’s a true gentleman, and the most caring and considerate host. Alex entertains impeccably at his apartment and it is always a delight to be there.”

Guests, too, find the apartment a breath of fresh air. 

 Antique Florentine marble spheres, obelisks and urns. Art: Lynn Hershman. 

“I have no plans to change this paled-down decor,” said Chases. “It’s elegantly simple and calm, day and night. In the early morning, it’s like walking in a cloud. It shows off the dramatic city views wonderfully. For the moment, I’m not craving color.” 

And so it is also an all-white scheme in his salon overlooking Union Square in San Francisco (pictured below). When he took over the superbly lit space a decade ago he decided to paint the interior all white (Donald Kaufman custom color paint) with a chateau-style ‘marble’ floor to add shimmer and a muted background.

The all-white plan gives his chairs a sculpture allure, and frames the clientele who come to this peaceful place.

“I’ll never change the design,” said Chases. “It’s a serene place to work. I have custom mixes of music, always very unobtrusive. Mine is not the disco approach. And then I go home to my tranquil apartment. I watch the sunset over the harbor, the fog swirling in, and I am content. I am free to dream.” 

Apartment credits:

Silver objects on table: Custom Hermes silver cups (flowers) Burmese silver pagodas

Tabletop: Hermes 'Toucan'. Tiffany ‘Audubon’ silver. Sue Fisher King water goblets

Paint: walls: Custom Donald Kaufman Satin DK-5 .Trim gloss DK-38

Fabrics: Sofas, Chairs and Chaise, Cotton, Casamance. Windows, curtains and pelmets: Silk Taffeta.

Urns: Chinese, acquired in Beijing.

Chairs: Custom from Fitzgerald, San Francisco.

Art: Lynn Hershman, David Ireland, (black and white nest by Shell Cardon)

Salon credits:
Custom-designed ‘white’ paint: DK-5 by Donald Kaufman.

Photo credits: 
Images courtesy Alex Chases. Used with permission.


The Devoted Classicist said...

The Donald Kaufman paint is always a plus in a monochromatic scheme, adding subtle nuances that change as the light varies.

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

I especially like the red and white bit, the decisive restraint!

peggy braswell said...

What a peaceful life after the hectic one he must live. Grand post.

Windlost said...

Hi Diane, what a beautiful post. I just adore the tranquility of this space, and the salon too. I would live in a much more white world if my husband would allow it. Haha.

What a stunning view of the cathedral and I love Alex's pagoda collection too.

This post is a big WOW (and beautifully written too).

Best wishes, Terri :)

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Peggy and Paul Gervais, and Terri, and my dear devoted Classicist many miles away in a divine location--

Thank you so much for your lovely comments.

The photos have a certain mood...and when I go to the apartment for a dinner with friends, it's all lit with candles.

We somewhat de-emphasised the views in the images--and in real life the views are right up close to the window and very present and compelling.

Down far below is Chinatown and over near the cathedral is the Huntington Hotel...and often at night, with the terrace doors open, you can hear the cable car bells clanging. It is very atmospheric. You can see the Bay Bridge with its lights and the new art project...

I turned Alex on to DONALD KAUFMAN paints when he was designing his own salon.

DONALD KAUFMAN who has a rather understated website, I must say--is a genius of paint. As an artist in California, he realized that a white paint made with 9 or 10 different color pigments would have life and vitality, while appearing whitish. So one of his paints might be white with the slightest hint of mauve that only appears at dusk. Yes, truly these paints are poetic and fascinating--they have depth and interest. Check them out...
best DIANE

Love Your Homes said...

Dear Di,
I find Chases's choices of interior decoration a most genius way of balancing today's daily life and wellbeing. Even if one doesn't want it, the hectic and much to informative community nowadays is unavoidable.
Both the apartment and the saloon look stunning.
Do I need to say that I love the drapes? The flat wouldn't be the same without them, Casamance is a great choice. Their silk is impeccable.

I see my son doing exactly this, a corporate lawyer working way too much. He's transformed his flat into a shade of subtle white, less small things and hi-tech, with a great deal of comfort for his time off.

My best,

P.s. I have to pass the saloon when I come to SF again. S is off next monday and I hope to go later in spring.

Jeffry Weisman said...

Chic, chic, chic - well done, Alex. And I love seeing the Montgomery torchere we designed for Michael Taylor in your living room!